Imagine there’s a referendum question on the ballot to have the state take over privately owned electric utility companies in Maine. Both sides present their case to the public. Voters hear arguments both for and against a government-run electric utility system.

On Election Day, the vote is overwhelming against such a takeover.

Well, of course, that scenario did happen, but that was Question 3. What about Question 2, which prohibits campaign spending by any entity with foreign ownership of 5% or more? What’s wrong with that?

Had Question 2 (which also passed handily) been in force during the last election cycle, Mainers would have never heard any arguments against a state electric utility takeover because it would have been illegal for broadcasters or newspapers to allow that advertising. This point bears repeating: If the ban on “foreign” political issue advertising — now imminent — had been in effect just a couple of months ago, Maine residents would have only heard from proponents of a state takeover. Let that sink in.

This is nothing short of censorship — and a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment.

Question 2, in my view, is illegal and here’s why: On issues of importance to Maine residents, voters should — and need — to be exposed to both sides. Silencing the opposition may be the modus operandi in Russia. Here in America, we entrust our citizens to make an informed choice.


Political advertising is, at its essence, advocacy for both sides of an issue (or candidate) and then the voters make the call. What if voters only hear one side?

Had the Pine Tree Power referendum issue been presented to voters with Question 2 as established law, that’s exactly what would have happened. Only one side of the issue would have been substantively heard and the result could have been far different.

Question 2 is a blatant restriction of free speech.

First Amendment concerns were among the reasons Gov. Mills vetoed legislation designed to accomplish the same thing. The veto was upheld, and what seems to happen when the legislative route fails? Oftentimes, that same flawed bill is boiled down to simplistic (and sometimes misleading) language designed to rile up the public, getting a new life as a referendum question.

Perhaps no issue gets a population more passionate than any reference to a foreign-owned entity trying to influence our elections. Never mind the foreign-owned entity targeted by Question 2 (Spain-based Iberdrola) happens to be a critical player in state infrastructure, employing thousands of Mainers, paying Maine property and income tax, serving hundreds of thousands of Maine residents. If the U.S. government wishes to ban all foreign investment in U.S. public companies, I suppose that’s an option. But as long as it remains legal, so too is the right for that entity to state its case, especially in the event where the impact on Maine life is so profound.

Check your 401(k). If your own personal investments in overseas companies exceeds 5% of your portfolio, (which is common), then maybe you are “foreign-owned” as well. Just kidding, but you get the point.


More problematic to broadcasters and newspapers is this new law’s requirement that we somehow discern the source of funding for any advertising. Under this law, Maine broadcasters, most of whom are small family businesses, would be required to peel away every layer of ownership to ensure it doesn’t violate the 5% threshold. Impossible.

Imagine you’re selling an old TV at a yard sale. Your buyer is offering the $50 asking price, but before a sale can happen you need to make sure that this prospect is either not a foreigner – or that the source of their funding doesn’t exceed $2.50 coming from overseas. Insane, but that’s what this new law demands from Maine broadcasters and newspapers.

Here’s a better solution.

Instead of establishing just a simple threshold for signatures, perhaps every prospective ballot question could have its underlying legislation pass muster constitutionally before being presented to voters. Voters are justifiably disillusioned when their decisions are overturned by courts because they are based on shoddy legislation and are deemed unconstitutional. Mainers can’t be expected to know all of the unintentional consequences of poorly written legislation, especially when boiled down to conceal the damage in an incendiary ballot question.

Mainers need to hear both sides of any issue, and putting a muzzle on one side — in the name of patriotism — is anything but.

Editor’s note: The Maine Press Association, of which this newspaper is a member, has joined the Maine Broadcasters Association in the lawsuit challenging Question 2. 

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